By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Sunday marked the first day of the season the new minor league pitch clock rules were enforced, and it didn’t take long to see the first victim.
With one out in the eighth inning of the Charlotte Stone Crabs’ 2-1 victory on Sunday, Fort Myers Miracle catcher Kevin Garcia was issued an automatic strike by home plate umpire Reid Joyner for not being in the batter’s box before the expiration of the clock.
In a new rule instituted in the low minor leagues this season — similar to the one enacted in the majors last year — the pitcher must be ready to deliver and the batter must be in the box ready to receive within 15 seconds after the catcher throws the ball back to the mound.
If the pitcher violates the rule, an automatic ball is issued, the same way an automatic strike was delivered to Garica on Sunday.
The rule has been in place since the start of the season, but the first month was deemed a “warning period” for teams and players to get used to the rule. The first day of May acted as the start of the penalties.
Here was manager Michael Johns’ reaction to the call after Sunday’s game:
“I think it puts everybody in a tough situation. I get why we’re doing it, and I’m a big fan of speeding the game up. But I think the big thing is — and this is what I tell the umpires, whether it means anything or not — I don’t want to see it decide a game. But the umpires have supervisors and people to answer to as well, so they have to. There’s nothing they can do. In that situation, I don’t know whether the hitter was (in the box) or not. That’s the last thing I’m looking at, at that point. I just think it puts the umpires in bad spots. They have a tough enough job as it is, and now they have to watch the clock and see was he ready. It’s just tough.
“I get why we’re doing it. At the end of the day, it’s going to iron itself out. There’s going to be some kinks, some snafus, but they gave us a month. They’ve done everything they can to try to prepare us for it. We prepared our team for it. We want our pitchers to work quick and our hitters to get the sign and get in the box. Let’s go. Let’s get the game going. So hopefully it won’t be an issue. But you hate to see it in the eighth in a one-run game.
“You want to see the players decide the game. And I think ultimately, Major League Baseball wants that same thing. I think they just want to speed the game up.”
The Stone Crabs made a roster move on Sunday, sending right-hander Yoel Espinal to Low-A Bowling Green and getting right-hander Ian Gibaut up from the Hot Rods.
Espinal, a minor league Rule-5 pickup from the Yankees during the offseason, allowed a run on three hits over 3 1/3 innings for Charlotte.
Gibaut, a flame-throwing 22-year-old the Rays drafted in the 11th round last year, allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits for Bowling Green while striking out 18 runners over 9 2/3 innings pitched.
Rigt-hander Brandon Koch, the Rays’ No. 17 prospect, was placed on the disabled list on Friday (retroactive to Wednesday) with right arm tenderness. Right-hander Mike Franco is still on the active roster, but hasn’t pitched since April 21 because of a minor oblique injury.
Infielder Andrew Velazquez and outfielder Justin Williams are both on the disabled list with hamstring injuries and remain without a timetable to return.